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Blogged Out: GUIs, Moore, Niches

Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week we look at ...
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week we look at GUIs, Moore's Law and niche gaming. Gooey Thoughts Wyatt Cheng has been thinking a lot about game design over on his weblog. Recently, he's been weighing up the information versus aesthetics debate of how you configure your World of Warcraft GUI: "It can get really bad. A typical screenshot of a player's screen in WoW consists of large amounts of scrolling chat text, a huge number of action bars (that are filled with brightly colored, highly saturated icons that are visually noisy - a property that is almost unavoidable when trying to make distinctive looking icons), health bars for raid members, flying text for combat events and much much more. I need user interface Feng Shui." It's interesting to see how few games manage to do away with a complex GUI. Some have tried, but can we really say there have been any great successes? Black & White was probably the closest, but such innovative approaches are disconcertingly rare. One issue is the extent to which a GUI is configurable by the player - easy to do for the likes of Eve Online and World of Warcraft (it's worth noting how WoW has ended up aping the various user-made mods that came out post-release to fix up an inadequate GUI), but other games aren't going to have such liberties. Getting the design right in the first place is still the most important factor. Moore Power Similar thoughts appear in response to Greg Costikyan's mammoth post entitled 'The End of Moore's Law?' In that post, Costikyan notes that we've been stuck in 3.x GHz chips for a couple of years now, rather than the 'doubling of speed' as defined by Moore's Law. Costikyan: "If we are indeed facing a sudden, drastic lowering in incremental processor speed gain, what does it mean? For one thing, it means the programmers suddenly have to become a lot less sloppy. Here's an example. Back when I had a Mac +, I upgraded (IIRC) from Word 3 to word 4, which had a new feature: tables. I liked this a lot, because I was working on a desktop publishing project (the SPI Compendium which ultimately turned into a web publishing project). But I quickly discovered that tables were incredibly, frustrating, stupidly slow. Just scrolling a doc with tables in it too forf*ckingever. Sure, my Mac+ was outdated even then, but there was no excuse for code this inefficient." There's widespread agreement in Costikyan's comments section on the code-optimization points, but the truth about clock speed is a little more complex, as 'Lionfire' notes: "Until recently, this has been easily visible as a doubling of external CPU clock speeds every two years (or even more often). Now we are seeing an increase in density, resulting in 64-bit, multiple core CPUs with lower power requirements." Niche Appeal The prolific Raph Koster has posted a much-discussed article about game genres and the dangers of pandering to niche production. He states: "Genres need diversity in order to expand. Or, phrased another way, a medium needs to not fall into genre if it wants to evolve or adapt. Perfect market adaptation to a niche is also death." There are a huge array of responses to his extensive screed on the site, but also a few responses from like-minded developers on their own websites. One such blogger is Brian Green, who offers a balancing view: "On the other hand, you can have good niches as well. Niches which attempt to draw part of the audience in a new direction can be a good thing. For example, A Tale in the Desert is a niche game that isn't just refining and narrowing the meaning of online RPGs. It took an often overlooked part of online RPG gameplay, crafting, and turned it into something the whole game is focused on. These expansive niches are good things, ways to grow the genre in new ways." And perhaps this is just a part of what Koster is getting at: people needs to take more cues from A Tale In The Desert, and less from EverQuest. [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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